By Raymond Harris
Regarding Scripture: The Book of Luke
Note to the Reader – I encourage you to invest additional time reading the Book of Luke in conjunction with this article.
The Book of Luke
The Gospel of Luke, considered one of the Synoptic Gospels, is of profound impact. Without the information recorded in Luke we would not know about the angel’s message to Zacharias1, or Elisabeth2 and Mary’s praise,3 nor about Jesus dedication and naming, and Simeon’s message4 and Anna’s response.5 While Matthew, Mark and John each hold special value, Luke simply is “the most comprehensive of the Gospels.”6
Interestingly enough, the writer of the Gospel of Luke is not actually identifiable from the Gospel, yet the material found within Luke and Acts is attributed to Paul’s companion, Luke.7 It is said that Justin Martyr, the Muratorian Canon, and Irenaeus8 credit both the Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles to the physician Luke.9 While several passages and circumstances have to be pieced together to give Luke credit, it is generally accepted that Luke is the writer. But this should not surprise or alarm us. There is not one Gospel writer who directly identifies himself; only tradition and references to Biblical passages provide insight. It seems that each Gospel writer was more intent on the Good News than recognition for writing the record.
While Luke is a companion of Paul, it seems that when he refers to himself it is in the first-person, using the inclusive pronoun “we”.10 Interestingly enough, no one outside of Paul mentions Luke,11 but it is interesting that two of the mentions by Paul are considered to be from Paul’s Prison Epistles, those being Colossians and Philemon. If it is true, as stated by Eusebius and Jerome, that Luke was a native of Syria,12 then it is of interest that the events in Acts before the “we” passage is of Paul and Silas traveling back through Syria to visit the brethren.13 Was Luke converted earlier by Paul? Was Luke converted during Paul’s returning visit? We are not told, but it is of interest.
While some debate ranges on the time frame of Luke compiling this information, whether he wrote after A.D./C.E. 70 or sometime between 58-63,14 it seems that the “we” passages lend some help. As Paul traveled with Silas back into Syria, this began his Second Missionary Journey, which some estimate to be around 51-54. Since it seems that these “we” passage are more like diary/journal entries, this writer is going to estimate that Luke was writing his information between 51 and 68, the end of Paul’s Second Roman Imprisonment and the end of Acts itself. This gives Luke about seventeen years to investigate the historic Yeshua (Jesus), the developments of the early church and to record his travels with Paul (Shaul).
As we continue, let us consider some tidbits mentioned in the NIV Archeological Study Bible. These provide additional points of interest which can enrich one’s reading of the Book of Luke. The study Bible states that Luke places importance on “Jesus’ concern for the poor and oppressed” and that Jesus has diverse “ethnic, religious, economic, and social group” interests15 and gave this information regarding the Gospel:16
- Each priest was responsible for a week’s service at the temple once every six months (1:23).
- Thirty was the age at which a Levite undertook his service (Nu 4:47) and at which a man was considered mature (3:23).
- In ancient times it was often assumed that a calamity would befall only those who were extremely sinful (13:2).
- Synagogues were used not only for worship and school but also for community administration and for the confinement of accused persons while awaiting trials (21:12).
While many scholars and non-scholars alike place Luke with Matthew and Mark, referring to them collectively as Synoptic Gospels, it is this writer’s opinion that Luke really should be independent of the Gospel accounts. Matthew (Mattityahu) is the Good News to the Hebrews; Mark is the Good News to the Gentiles; and John is the Good News of Love. Luke is the Historical Good News. The reason why this writer believes Luke should be separate from the Gospels is because the author of Luke makes his purpose for writing distinct and clear in the opening declaration17 of both Luke and Acts.
Together, Luke and Acts function as a two-volume set making up 27% of New Testament writings18 and work conjointly to provide biographical, historical, and sometimes journalistic references about the early days of the church. In the strictest sense, this writer is not certain that Luke was recording his preaching of the Gospel as much as he was recording events from the preaching he heard, since he is considered a companion of Paul; again consider Luke’s opening declaration. But it is certain that without Luke’s investigation into the things he heard and his determination to record them for Theophilus, he and we would be without vital information.
1. “Angel’s message to Zacharias.” Luke 1.5-22, NASB.
2. “Elisabeth’s Praise.” Luke 1.41-45, NASB.
3. “Mary’s Praise.” Luke 1.46-55, NASB.
4. “Simeon’s Message.” Luke 2.25-35, NASB.
5. “Anna’s Response.” Luke 2.36-38, NASB.
6. “The most comprehensive.” Luke, Nelson’s Complete Book of Bible Maps and Charts, Luke, p. 334, ISBN 0-7852-1154-3.
7. “Paul’s companion, Luke.” Colossians 4.14; II Timothy 4.11; Philemon 1.24, NASB.
8. “Author: Luke.” Introduction to Luke; “Author, Place and Date of Writing” Archaeological Study Bible, New International Version, p. 1663, ISBN-10: 0-310-92605-X.
9. “Luke, the beloved physician.” Colossians 4.14, NASB.
10. “Inclusive pronoun, we.” Acts 16.10-13, 16; 20.6, 13-15; 21.1-8, 10, 12, 14-17; 27.1-5, 7, 15-16, 18-20, 26-27, 29, 37; 28.10-14, 16, NASB.
11. “Only Paul mentions Luke.” See Endnote 2.
12. “Luke, native of Syria.” The Gospel According to Luke, Dickson New Analytical Study Bible, King James Version, p. 1157, ISBN 0-529-06194-5.
13. “Paul and Silas in Syria.” Acts 15.40-41, cf 15.36, NASB.
14. “Time of writing debate.” Luke, Nelson’s Complete Book of Bible Maps and Charts, Luke, p. 334, ISBN 0-7852-1154-3.
15. Introduction to Luke; “As You Read” Archaeological Study Bible, New International Version, p. 1663, ISBN-10: 0-310-92605-X.
16. Introduction to Luke; “Did You Know?” Archaeological Study Bible, New International Version, p. 1664, ISBN-10: 0-310-92605-X.
17. “Opening Declaration.” Luke 1.1-4; Acts 1.1-3, NASB.
18. Luke is 1151 verses; Acts is 1007 verses. Calculation 1151 + 1007 = 2158; 2158 / 7957 = 0.271; 0.271 * 100 = 27.1; 7957 is the total number of KJV New Testament verses which is sourced from “Chapters and verses of the Bible” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, December 26, 2008, Wikipedia.com http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bible_verse.